Friday, September 23, 2011



Despite being known as a highly professional company offering very challenging work environment, an MNC (name being withheld) failed to attract top notch talent from B-schools. Research told the company that it was telling its prospective recruits what they already knew, thereby adding no value through communication. Besides, these freshly minted MBAs wanted moderate challenge, not the ‘fear factor kind’ of environment at the workplace. Tang kept on insisting in India that it was orange juice to be had on breakfast table, as in US. Instead it should have perhaps tested the hypothesis whether the brand would find acceptance on any other occasion, given that Indians don’t drink juice at breakfast table. A third company wanted to find out which flavour should it choose to lace its new introduction of glucose powder with – grape, pineapple, orange, or mango. This despite the common knowledge that in India the most acceptable flavours are mango and orange. Real was also introduced the western way – unsweetened. But research made Dabur realise that market preferred it sweet. Yet when Tropicana arrived in India it came in with sugarless juices.

Strategy formulation and execution without the benefit of consumer insights is as sensible as running on a minefield blindfolded. At times these might be intuitively obvious to the marketer. A tremendously successful cigarette brand – Charms – was introduced without any research input. Or, at other times while research may provide counter indications, a marketer, through sheer perseverance, may still make a success of a brand. Pre-launch survey for Sintex water tanks had warned against such a launch. So a manager should avoid making the business problem a slave of the research. But, equally he should avoid working on the strength of a mere hunch.


When R. Mohan thought of introducing Good Knight repellant mats (in 1984) the market was using coils followed by creams and sprays, with coils commanding 70% market share. Mohan wanted to introduce an electronic mosquito repellant,including the electrical mosquito destroyer (EMD) and the chemically impregnated mats. Focus groups were conducted among both non-users and users of repellents. The aim was to know about principal and peripheral motives behind the use, knowledge about the product, and the level of satisfaction enjoyed.

It was discovered that the basic reason to use the repellant was to enjoy peaceful sleep. Knowledge about electronic repellents was virtually missing, and those who knew disapproved of their high price and fluctuating quality. Families with children were frequent users of coils and creams, and they were reasonably satisfied. While users of mats disliked cream due to its perceived harmful effect on skin, cream users avoided mats since they emitted harmful gases. Pricewise, at Rs.5-10 both were affordable, easily available too. Briefly put no major dissatisfaction. Undeterred, Mohan decided to launch his high priced contraption through premium positioning. The product was targeted at dissatisfied cream and coil using parents with young kids. Communication aimed at selling generic product concept & induce trial by projecting a modern image, and ease of use. The rest, as they say, is history.

Learning: At times research about not whether but how the concept will work. Not decision making about strategy, but decision support system is provided by marketing research.


One of the top three multinational nonformal shoe marketer came to India, salivating over teeming millions as potential buyers. Logic deployed was simplistic, albeit daft: Everyone who could buy a Maruti was capable of buying the shoe brand. Logic so far was uncontestable. But how can you forget the simple lesson of Economics 101: What ‘could’ be purchased is not necessarily what ‘would’ be purchased. Need plus ability plus motivation plus opportunity combined together generate demand for a product. Another MNC, this time a contact lens maker, had gathered some data from published reports and estimated that the market had a size of 2,00,000. Indian middle class was spending huge amounts on branded clothing, fashion accessories, grooming products and so on. Besides, every unmarried, spectacled woman between age 18-26 was looking for alternative to spectacles (not true) since Indian men did not want girls with glasses (even if true). It refused to accept the researched size of the market, between 75,000-78,000. A third marketer, in face of declining sales for his product, had concluded that flat sales were due to the tactical price cut by the competitor. The brand manager wanted the research to answer: One, should he cut prices; two, should the cut be even lower than that of the competitor? The agency being wiser than the client found out that consumers were not price sensitive anyway, and only one third market had even noticed the Rs.2 price differential between the client and the competitors’ brands. So it tested other hypothesis. It found that penetration of the competitor was now deeper by 500 more outlets and it was paying better margins to the retailers. Hence, bigger sales.

Learning: Preconceived notions yield wrong hypotheses and faulty hypotheses do not deliver correct findings.


When Gillette introduced shaving gel in aerosol cans, where it could be sprayed directly on the face, it failed to find many Indian users. Research revealed that in India users associate shaving very strongly with brush and foam; they were uneasy about using gel directly. The company introduced a gel tube whereby the shaver puts gel drop on a brush and works up the lather. Cadbury found that with a positioning of Cadbury as a gift to a child on special occasions, and with 70% marketshare, the sales were stagnant. The parent would be the buyer but never consumer. The company repositioned the bar: eating chocolate is an everyday affair, and for adults; the sales shot up. Research surveys and retail feedback repeatedly pointed out that Barbie appealed to only those inclined westward. The company decided to launch ‘Barbie in India,’ a dark haired variant drapped in a saree, sporting a bindi. It worked.

Learning: To the extent possible, listen to the consumer & fine-tune your Ps of marketing. Give Real to those with a sweat palate and Activ, Zero sugar range, to diabetics. Both should work.


All over the world, Lifebuoy was sold on the body odour platform. Unilever (now HUL) wanted to deploy the same positioning here too. Lintas, their agency, did a dipstick and found that in India body odour was not perceived to be a problem. Lever pointed out that it was not perceived to be a problem in West either – until Lifebuoy campaign made people conscious about it. Lintas, unconvinced, pointed out that in West people lived in close spaces, not necessarily bathing everyday. In India people use open spaces and bathing is a daily ritual. So ultimately the platform chosen was Lifebuoy hai jahan, tandaroosti hai wahan (where there is Lifebuoy, health is assured). Today, while in West Lifebuoy sells no more, in India, volumewise, it is the largest selling soap brand. Hindustan Lever had initially rejected the Lalitaji Campaign for Surf. It was the agency again which wagered a bet and sought permission to go ahead with the campaign to counter the declining sales. Sony Corporation is on record saying that it does not make sense to talk to consumers anyway, because they don’t know. No pre-launch research was ever done before the introduction of ipod, iPad, or iPhone. But before you jump to the conclusion as to why then spend money on research, remember that the list of failed products from Steve Jobs is longer than the ones that worked. And Sony is losing its status of being an innovative company to Samsung which retains its faith in research.

Thus, intuition cannot replace research either.


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